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Intel at Inception

December 10, 2012

Newly obtained NYPD documents, prepared in 2003 and 2004, provide an insight into how the Intelligence Division operated in the aftermath of 9/11 as it sought to protect the city against another terrorist attack.

The documents, obtained by NYPD Confidential, suggest reasons and rationales, at least for the NYPD’s initial spying efforts.

These documents provide a perspective into the origins of the NYPD’s world-wide spying activities that critics maintain has spiraled out of control.

Over the past 16 months, this column and the Associated Press — which received a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting — have disclosed that the NYPD has spied on hundreds of Muslim mosques, schools, businesses, student groups, non-governmental organizations and individuals, and that the spying operation targeted virtually every level of Muslim life in New York City. [See NYPD Confidential, Sep. 5, 2011.]

The AP has also reported that the NYPD targeted Muslims in New Jersey, infuriating governor Chris Christie who maintained that he and New Jersey law enforcement officials were not told the extent of the NYPD's spying.

The newly acquired documents show that, as early as 2004, the Intelligence Division’s Terrorism Interdiction Unit had targeted specific African-American and Middle-Eastern Muslims, many with criminal histories.

The Intelligence Division also created categories of “Mosques of Interest,” “Statements of Rhetoric,” “Dates of Interest,” “Places of Interest,” including a separate “New Jersey Places of Interests,” “Radical Leadership,” consisting of ten individuals,” and “Most Dangerous,” consisting of 16 individuals.”

In addition it provided a “Watch List” that identified 26 individuals.

A former top NYPD official familiar with Intel’s spying operation confirmed the authenticity of the documents.

Neither Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne nor the office’s commanding officer, Inspector Kim Royster, responded to emails seeking comment.

Profiles of the targeted individuals, according to the police documents, included statements of violent anti-Americanism and vicious anti-Semitism.

One person on the “Watch List” was Mustafa T. Al-Hanafi, who was described as an “American Black.” Of him, the documents say:

Bullet“Subject expresses hatred of U.S.
Bullet“7/01/04 both subject and Michael Brickhouse [another person on the Watch List] stated they wanted to take action to make a statement of their own. The example used was burning a building or throwing a Jew in front of a train to encourage the brothers.”

The documents say that both men were parishioners of the Al-Farouq Mosque in Brooklyn, which was listed under “Mosques of Interest.” In later documents, dated 2006, obtained by the AP and this column, the mosque was listed as one of nine “Tier One Mosques of Concern.”

Another man on the Watch List, Abdou El Zindani, was described as “Yemeni” and the imam of the Al-Farouq Mosque.

The documents said of him:

Bullet“Subject returned from Yemen on 6/28/2004.
Bullet“Subject has a ‘Look Out’ placed on him from U.S. Customs.
Bullet“Associate of Sheik Abdul Rahman [Blind Sheik].
Bullet“Actively recruits for Jihad
Bullet“Affiliation – Al Qaeda [Material Support to Al Qaeda.]”

Sheik Rahman, the so-called “spiritual adviser” for the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, was subsequently convicted of conspiring with nine others to set off bombs to blow up city landmarks and is serving a life prison sentence.

A third man on the Watch List, Sidi Mohamed Zorkane, was described as “Moroccan” and as the imam of the Al-Albaanee mosque in Brooklyn:

The documents say of him:

Bullet“8/02 [2003] states of plot to bomb adjoining F-train adjacent to Masjid [mosque.] Referred to JTTF [Joint Terrorist Task Force]
Bullet“9/25/03 Imam made statement post 9-ll attacks stating that this was a natural predicted occurrence and took quotes from Quran out of context to support his statements. … He had also urged the congregation not to adopt America as their new country, only to use it for their benefit.”

Yet, of the 52 men listed on the Watch List and under “Most Dangerous” and “Radical Leadership,” only two have been charged with a terrorist-related crime.

They are Shahawar Matin Siraj, then 22, and James El Shafay, who the police documents spell as Alshafay, then 19. These early documents describe Siraj as “Pakistani” and say of him:

Bullet“Anti-American, has expressed hope for additional attacks
Bullet“Has a violent temper
Bullet“Experienced with computers
Bullet“Has been in possession of CD’s which include computer programs with bomb making information, Anarchist cookbook, grid maps containing circles and arrows that list various cities within the U.S.”

The documents describe El Shafay as “American born” and say of him:

Bullet“Does not speak Arabic — English only.
Bullet“Mother is Irish.
Bullet“Father is from Cairo, Egypt.
Bullet“Resides with Mother — Unknown if Father resides at address.
Bullet“Does not go to work or go to school. …
Bullet“His real first name is Hefney, like his father, yet his mother changed his name to James.
Bullet“Both subject Matin and CI [Confidential Informant] believe that James may be using some unknown type of drugs.”

Both Siraj and El Shafay were charged with plotting to blow up the Herald Square subway station on the eve of the Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden in 2004.

El Shafay pleaded guilty and testified against Siraj, who was convicted and is serving a 30-year prison sentence.

Last June, a group of Muslim individuals and organizations filed suit against New York City, arguing that the NYPD's spying programs were "founded upon a false and constitutionally impermissible premise: that Muslim religious identity is a legitimate criterion for selection of law-enforcement surveillance targets."

Proponents of the NYPD’s spying programs have maintained that one incident like Siraj’s justifies the widespread surveillance.

But the issue is complicated. Besides preventing terrorism, the NYPD seems intent on glory by enhancing the danger posed by these two criminals.

Omitted from the NYPD’s description of Siraj in its documents was that he had an I.Q. regarded as borderline retarded.

Omitted from NYPD’s description of El Shafay was his mental condition: that he was depressive and schizophrenic, and in and out of mental institutions.

Testimony at Siraj’s trial also revealed that the NYPD paid a confidential informant $100,000 to egg the two on in their plot.

Then there was the case of Najibullah Zazi, the Colorado-based bus driver who plotted to place bombs in the city’s subways. The FBI had tracked him as he drove across the country but the NYPD, without informing the FBI, reached out to their informant, who tipped off Zazi, nearly blowing the case.

Last week, Algerian-born Ahmed Ferhani pleaded guilty to planning to attack a Manhattan synagogue. He did so in Manhattan State Supreme Court after the FBI declined to pursue a prosecution.

The announcement of his arrest the year before had been heralded at a City Hall news conference with Police Commissioner Michael Bloomberg and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance in attendance. World-wide headlines followed.

A Manhattan grand jury, however, declined to indict Ferhani on the top terrorism charge.

After Ferhani’s guilty plea, NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly issued a public statement: “My congratulations to District Attorney Vance for successfully prosecuting this important case. He rose to the occasion in making sure Ahmed Ferhani received significant jail time for plotting to kill New Yorkers as they worshiped. In his allocution, Ferhani made clear — as our Intelligence Division detectives documented — that he intended to attack congregants in a Manhattan synagogue with a hand grenade and gunfire, for the purpose of intimidating and coercing the Jewish population of New York City.”

Kelly later issued a revised statement. In it there was no mention of Ferhani’s plotting to kill New Yorkers.

Instead, Kelly said: “In his allocution, Ferhani made clear — as our Intelligence Division detectives documented — that he intended to attack a Manhattan synagogue with a hand grenade and gunfire, for the purpose of intimidating and coercing the Jewish population of New York City.”

In short, Kelly extracted the congregants from the synagogue, leaving it as just an empty building.

Edited by Donald Forst

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Copyright © 2012 Leonard Levitt